Ofcom clears 'Enders paedophile plot

Communications regulator Ofcom has ruled that EastEnders' controversial paedophile plot was handled "appropriately and sensitively" and therefore was not in breach of the broadcasting code.

At the end of last year, the soap tackled a child abuse storyline that saw Tony King being released from prison, before arriving in Albert Sqaure to continue his secret relationship with his 15-year-old step-daughter Whitney Dean.

It later transpired that their involvement with each other had been ongoing for three years, starting when Whitney was 12.

Between the first and last episode of the storyline arc - the period of September 12 to December 9 - Ofcom received 90 complaints from viewers who believed the material to be inappropriate for a pre-watershed time slot. Meanwhile, the BBC received more than 163 complaints.

Other viewers were concerned as to the suitability of the content, given the proportion of children under 15 who tune in, while some claimed that the material 'implied that such child abuse is acceptable and even consensual'.

Despite viewers' concerns, Ofcom has ruled that the subject matter was treated "appropriately and sensitively" and "did not necessarily exceed the boundaries of acceptability".

Instead, the storyline "actually had a positive impact" on the audience, since it prompted a large number of real-life victims to call the BBC Action Line, while others wrote to the show's producers describing their similar experiences.

Ofcom pointed out that EastEnders has, over the years, tackled similar issues in storylines, including 13-year-old Kat Slater's rape by her uncle Harry and Bianca's under-age relationship with her mother Carol Jackson's boyfriend, Dan Sullivan.

It was noted that the distinguishing feature of the Tony/Whitney plot, compared with others of the same ilk, was that it saw some 'abuse' play out on screen, while it also depicted, to an extent, the 'grooming' process whereby the paedophile gains their victim's trust. This issue was further tackled in a later sub-plot which saw Tony turn his attentions to Lauren Branning .

Ofcom has deemed that various bedroom scenes which raised concerns among viewers were 'appropriately limited for a pre-watershed programme', noting that neither Whitney nor Tony was ever 'shown in bed, unclothed or engaged in anything more intimate than brief kissing'.

Finally, Ofcom ruled that the climax to the storyline, which saw Tony being arrested after his partner Bianca called the police, provided 'an appropriate conclusion'.

In addition, the BBC's close working relationship with the NSPCC, The Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre, the Metropolitan Police and social workers ensured that the plot 'was a true reflection of the way such child abuse takes place'.

Source - Digital Spy

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